Review Summary: Killer Is Dead showcases a lot of new creative ideas, but lacks the will to make it all function properly.
The slow burning tempos, scuttling electronics and methodically planned structures of Shadows of the Damned
are a far cry to the hotchpotch arbitrariness of Killer Is Dead
. There’s two sides to the argument, of course – it would be hypocritical of me to sit here and call Akira a hack for producing an album this far out there when I thrive on musical growth, but there has to be a line drawn somewhere so you can understand the boundaries of what made you unique in the first place. And that’s the main reason Killer Is Dead
runs into so many problems: it rarely sounds like an Akira Yamaoka score. I’m getting ahead of myself though, it’s easier to understand my bewilderment, and analysis on whether this is intentional or not, by talking about the game it’s written for. Killer Is Dead sees another collaboration with Suda51 and Akira, but this time there’s no words of wisdom from Mikami to ground what is a typically standard affair for a Suda51 game. If you’ve never played Killer 7, Flower, Sun and Rain: Murder and Mystery in Paradise or No More Heroes, to name his bigger brands, they’re abstract, sometimes outrageous and hilariously excessive, games. Imagine a Takeshi Miike film mixed with hack ‘n slash gameplay and you’re halfway there on what to expect. The problem with this particular offering is it lacks Suda’s usual spark; the game is more akin to No More Heroes 2’s sloppy execution than No More Heroes. The story is even less coherent and more careless than normal and the overall presentation isn’t as tightknit or fun, things feel random and stitched together ultimately showing as a pretty big blooper on Suda’s, up to now, interesting CV.
So, you have to wonder, was the soundtrack a reflection of the game？ I’m inclined to accept this theory over Yamaoka’s irrefutable urge to branch this far out, given his track record. With the exception of Shattered Memories
for failing to capture the game’s essence, he has hit the nail on the head everywhere else in his career, and I believe that the off-rails obscurity for this game is what set his mind to such a crazy soundscape. Let’s get it out there now, this throws the baby out with the bathwater. The usual penchants are almost non-existent here, it’s like a subversion of fan expectations. Mary Elizabeth McGlynn？ Forget about it, how about a vocal spot from a cringe-induced, generic rapper. Melancholy？ Who needs that when you can have frantic techno beats being forced down your earholes so quick it makes you confused and nauseous. This record lacks the same disciplines the last 14 years of his career have stubbornly maintained and displayed. “Piano School”, the album’s opening track, is about as atmospheric as it gets and serves as no representation of what’s heading your way.
The worst glaring flaw with Killer Is Dead
is undoubtably its production, everything is cranked to 11 and sounds like a fuzzed-out wall of schizophrenic techno vomit. “Danger Danger” became so obnoxious I almost had to boycott the thing entirely, because of its unrelenting thump, thump
repetition and lack of anything in the way of spiked bass hits trying to kick your eardrums in. I get the attempt at making a fast-paced soundtrack to fit the futuristic punk themes here, but it doesn’t help its case when everything around the punk attitude and Godzilla sized sound is jarringly capricious and as incoherent as the game’s storytelling. Badly handled repetition is another reoccurring habit and is almost immeasurable for description. The generic down-tuned chugs of “Fast and Loose” start off promising but become as old as the ferocious tempos on here. It’s something the album never gets over, and every song suffers from a one-dimensional outcome that would induce sleep if it wasn’t for those damn bass thumps. The agitated spasms of instruments form an interesting sound at times though, it has to be said: “Vibrations” has a cool little slap-pop bassline that introduces a nice new facet to Akira, while “Lotus Power” manages to salvage some dignity by successfully amalgamating the dour tone of his previous works with this new hard-hitting electronic sound, but honestly, I’m pissing into the wind trying to find a lot of the pros to this.
Killer Is Dead
is a slog to get through. Forget about everything you know and love about Akira’s work here, this is a creative misfire that tries to fit the games aesthetic a little too literally. It has a novelty for about 10 minutes, at which point you’ll discover the revelation this has no focus. It throws a million different ideas into a pot, bypasses the simmer and goes straight for the boiling point instead. Unlike all his Silent Hill work and Shadows of the Damned, this lacks a much-needed attention span. Tracks just don’t seem to have a goal, feeling like a mesh of ideas with little context. While this soundtrack does suit the game itself, it doesn’t say a lot considering the game was barely average to begin with. Akira trades intelligence for visceral instinct, and while an admirable idea on paper, the reality doesn’t translate all that well. It’s the first serious fumble for Yamaoka and I would urge you to avoid this dizzying album and listen to any one of his other fantastic works instead.
SPECIAL EDITION: N/A